The nonreligious may make up just a fraction of the military, but they say their beliefs are as valid as those of their religious counterparts—and the military should recognize them. Some dozen troops are currently applying to become humanist lay leaders—joining the lay Christians, Muslims, and Jews who assist military chaplains—as a way of offering support to other members of the military who don’t believe in God. But it hasn’t been an easy process, they tell the Baltimore Sun.
So far, none of the applications have been accepted. “What I've heard is: 'Well, you guys aren't like us. You guys don't believe like we do,’” says the head of a military atheist group. Indeed, some feel their beliefs have held back their careers. When one soldier was ordered to meet with a military chaplain, “he basically told me that if I don't get right with God, then I'm worthless,” the soldier says. While atheist organizations are growing in the military, "the group that they want to be a lay leader for would have to be considered a recognized religious organization," notes a Fort Meade spokeswoman, who says that makes the quest to have an atheist lay leader named "a high mountain to climb."